How to Prepare for Annual Fire Inspections

Posted August 03, 2021 by Koorsen Fire & Security

fire marshal inspection

Annual fire inspections are performed by Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), which is usually the local fire marshal or fire chief. While having a fire marshal show up unannounced to perform an inspection can be unsettling, remember that those inspections will help you meet the shared goal of ensuring the safety of your building and the people inside it. Viewing the AHJ as a resource for your business allows you to work more effectively together to make your inspection go more smoothly and quickly.

The things that fire marshals focus on during an inspection can vary because the codes that the requirements are based on vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While this can make it difficult to know exactly every aspect of your system that will be inspected, there are a few things you can do to be better prepared -- no matter when the fire marshal shows up.  

Familiarize Yourself with Relevant Requirements

Becoming familiar with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards relevant to your business is always a good idea. However, this can be a daunting task because the NFPA  publishes more than 300 codes and standards. You can use the NFPA's interactive CodeFinder Tool to find those used in your state and likely relevant to your business.  

NFPA 1 Fire Code and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code apply across the board. While not exhaustive, the table below provides some of the most common components of your fire protection system that the fire marshal will evaluate during your annual inspection with links to relevant codes. It's important to note that these and other fire codes are highly detailed and continuously updated. Working with a reliable and respected fire protection and service company can help you stay on top of any changes that pertain to your business.

Inspection Area

Relevant Standards

Fire Suppression Systems

NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers

NFPA 12: Standard on Carbon Dioxide Extinguishing Systems

NFPA 12A: Standard on Halon 1301 Fire Extinguishing Systems

NFPA 17: Standard for Dry Chemical Extinguishing Systems

NFPA 17A: Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems

NFPA 2001: Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems

Fire Exits

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code

NFPA 170: Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols

Fire Sprinklers

NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinklers

NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems

Sprinkler System Water Supply

NFPA 14: Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems

Fire Alarms and Fire Panel

NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code


NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code


NFPA 70 (National Electric Code

NFPA 110: Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems

NFPA 111: Standard on Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems


Become Aware of the Most Common Fire Code Violations

There's a lot of benefit in knowing what the most common fire code violations are. Most are issues that are easily missed but also easily avoidable. Understanding what these issues are will help you identify things you might not have realized you needed to check. It will also help you be more proactive in preventing them.  

Have Your Records Organized and Easily Accessible

Most fire protection systems are a complex network of sprinklers and other fire suppression systems, smoke and fire detection devices, fire alarms, and other signaling devices. And, of course, you'll always have one or more types of fire extinguishers.

All of the components of your fire protection system and your fire extinguishers have different requirements for inspection, testing, and maintenance. Many requirements include tagging or labeling the component to show when it was last inspected, tested, and/or serviced. If those tags or labels are missing, you'll need records to prove to the fire marshal that the requirements have been met. And, since you never know when the fire marshal will show up, your records should always be easily accessible.

It's also good to have building plans handy if possible to provide the fire marshal a more holistic view of your fire protection system. Building plans allow the inspection to go more quickly because the fire marshal doesn't have to spend time looking for the different components of your system that must be inspected.  

Know Your Occupancy Limits (and Never Exceed Them)

Occupancy limits are all about egress -- ensuring that everyone in the building can safely evacuate in the event. Occupancy limits vary based on the type of structure. There are two types of occupancy limits that you need to be aware of because the fire marshal is likely to evaluate both while in your building or facility. 

  • Occupancy Load -- This is the number of people permitted in the building at any given time and is calculated based on the building's floor space and function and means of egress (how many exits and how wide they are). Occupancy load is determined in accordance with the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. If you don't know the occupancy code for your building, you can use this factsheet provided by the NFPA to understand better and calculate it.   
  • Maximum Occupancy -- This refers to the maximum number of people that can be inside a room within a building as opposed to the entire building. Every room in your building will have a maximum occupancy, which is calculated based on the combined width of all means of egress from that room. Other factors can further reduce the maximum occupancy of a room, such as columns, how much furniture is in the room and how it is arranged, and whether the means of egress leads to a stairway. If you don't know your maximum occupancy, you can estimate it by dividing the room's square footage by 36 inches (the standard size of doors that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act). 

While you can estimate your occupancy load and maximum occupancy for your building, it's important to get those numbers from the AHJ. That's the only way to ensure that you are in compliance at all times, including the day the fire marshal shows up for your annual inspection. 

Download Koorsen's Free Inspection Checklist  

Koorsen can help you be better prepared for your next inspection with its free Fire Marshall Inspection Checklist. While not exhaustive, our checklist provides the most important fire safety elements that most inspectors will be looking for. It will help you understand the requirements and what you need to do to meet them. If you are in doubt about the requirements of a specific component of your fire protection system or if the system as a whole is in compliance,  contact Koorsen today. Our fire safety experts can help you ensure your entire system meets all requirements before your next inspection, helping you avoid costly fines while keeping your building and its occupants properly protected at all times.

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Topics: Inspection/Testing, Fire Safety & Security

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.